Yesterday I went to see the last of the Japan Foundation Touring Film Programme films at the Watershed: Pecoross’ Mother and Her Days (ペコロスの母に会いに行く). Pecoross’ Mother and Her Days was directed by Azuma Morisaki (森崎 東) and based on a manga by Yuichi Okano.
Drawing on social issues in Japan surrounding it’s ageing population and based on the autobiographical comic by Yuuichi Okano, this heart-warming comedy depicts a middle-aged comic artist’s humorous and touching relationship with his elderly, dementia-suffering mother.
When he isn’t at his salaryman day job or watching out for his elderly mother, laid-back baby boomer Yuichi (Ryo Iwamatsu) is a middle-aged manga artist and singer-songwriter. With not much hair left on his head, Yuichi, (who goes by the nickname Pecoross due to his balding likeness to a ‘pecoross’ onion) is forced to face the fact that his mother Mitsue (Harue Akagi) will need to be moved to a nursing home. Suffering from increasing dementia since her husband’s death, she is a constant source of both comic energy and annoyance for Yuichi. But by jumping back in time, we see how Mitsue tracked the tumult of the latter half of the 20th century, being raised as one of 10 children, surviving the war, and having to push her alcoholic husband (Ryo Kase) along in life, as now embedded in the nursing home with its idiosyncratic inhabitants, her memories gradually lead her to retrace her past.
Directed by Azuma Morisaki (the oldest active film director in Japan) – who creates an emotionally complex work that is all the more profound and life-affirming for its cartoonish portrayal – this light, heart-warming gem topped the best film poll in two of Japan’s most famous film magazines (Eiga Geijutsu and Kinema Junpo) in 2013. (Watershed)
Set in Nagasaki, Pecoross’ Mother and Her Days is another beautiful example of what Japanese cinema does best – a simple slice of life. It’s nothing ground breaking, there are no fancy special effect, but there is beautifully filmed small-town scenery, and a touching story portraying life just as it is. This film is funny, sad and heart-warming, and I thoroughly enjoyed it.
My friend (whose Japanese is much better than mine) pointed out that the actors were speaking in Nagasaki dialect, and at the end of the movie I heard someone comment how nice it was to see a film set in Japan but not in Tokyo, and I agree. The scenery in Nagasaki is quite different to what you might see in other parts of Japan, and I found the setting, costumes and buildings from the flashbacks particularly interesting.
The fact that this film is based on a non-fictional comic book makes it all the more powerful to me. The comic book gained popularity when it was published in 2012 not only because it handled the difficult topic of dementia in a comical way, but also because the Japanese readers found their memories stirred by the post-war setting of the flashbacks. Dementia is a difficult subject, and especially so in Japan where the idea of sending aged relatives to nursing homes is still relatively taboo. Even in the film one character reacts with some shock when Yuichi tells him he is considering putting his mother in a home. Clearly it is the safest place for her, but the idea of many generations of one family staying together under one roof (especially in smaller towns and rural areas) is still very much a part of Japanese culture today. Interestingly, this hasn’t always been the case in Japan though. In the distant past there were customs called ‘ubasute’ (姥捨て) and ‘oyasute’ (親捨て) which referred to the abandonment of an old woman or a parent. These may never have been common customs, but it is believed that they existed in very rural areas of Japan and there is evidence of them in folklore.
The theme of this year’s Japan Foundation Touring Film Programme was ‘IKIRU: The Highs and Lows of Life in Japanese Cinema’, and Pecoross’ Mother and Her Days seems like a suitable film to round this topic off. This film perfectly captured the highs and lows of life, and I would recommend it to anyone with even a remote interest in Japanese culture.
Here’s the trailer:
To find out more about the films showing as part of the Japan Foundation Touring Film Programme, visit the official website: www.jpf-film.org.uk. The Japan Foundation Touring Film Programme has finished now in Bristol, but continues until 26th March in other parts of the country.